After a week’s hiatus while I helped a friend move across country, the group got together for the next installment of our Dungeons & Dragons game. The had previously fought off some religious zealots who saw Carona, the satyress, as a ‘demonic creature” and the group as tainted by their association with her. They had discovered the plot was initiated by a local priest who admitted that the existence of Icio the Monk and his kind (aasimar, or “barukhim” (the blessed) in this campaign) were a direct threat to the Nicene sect of Christianity in the Western Empire, especially with the arrival of the new 4 year old emperor as his empress-regent mother, an Arian Christian.

Legate Quintus Marcellus Quadius, recently honored by the throne for his defense of Castra Stativa, was given a legion to go to Achaia in search of the River Styx and the “Shadow” — a mystical veil separating the world from the other planes of existence. A coalition of creatures — fallen angels and other monstrous things trapped on earth when the Shadow fell — are looking to invade Hades (the only plane that cannot be walled off) and release the denizens of Tartarus to invade heaven.

They marched to Aquileia, the northern-most port on the Mare Hadriatica and home to the family of Marcus Calvinus, their bard. Along the way, a few vignettes showed the growing influence the succubus Bayla was having on him. After their night together, she has been temptinghim with telepathic thoughts of sex and murder, and how he could be “a king in the new world.” Carrus the dwarf has been feeling the pressure of Carona’s pregnancy, while getting increasingly protective of her. Marcellus is feeling the weight of command — he was a discharged mercenary only a few months ago! — and Augustinian the cleric has been wrestling with the issues of morality and the strengths of monotheism in that respect, and what it means in a world where they’ve had demonstrable proof of gods other than Icio’s “one true god.”

On arrival in Aquileia, they found that Calvinus’ father, who had cast his “whore of an entertainer” son out of the city after he refused to marry the daughter of an influential Christian, was now the praetor urbanis (mayor) of the city, and his brother Lucius the head of the family’s lucrative shipping business. He’s is unquestionably the power in town, even lording it over the technically higher ranking corrector of the province. They are welcomed, and Calvinus finds out his father is impressed and proud of his black sheep of a son for his heroism and service to Rome. He also makes it very obvious that it’s time the boy, like the rest of the family, bite the bullet and convert to Christianity. It doesn’t matter, his father tells him, it he believes…it’s the appearance that matters.

Augustinian hit the local library and managed to finagle his way into seeing some of the “restricted” works (magical tomes) to find a way to help excise the succubus from Calvinus’ mind. He then started work on a crucifix the bard could wear that would give protection from evil. This would allow the character another charisma save to break the bond with the creature.

Marcellus worked with the local legate navalis (admiral) to secure the six triremes and command crews necessary to move the legion and their equipment. Their mules, however, would need to be abandoned, as this would require almost a week to get enough vessels together to move them all. As it is, two of the ships will have to be contracted for with the Calvinus family.

Icio met with the local archbishop, Valerianus, who is pushing him to speak out against Arianism and Homousian sects of Christianity (even though Icio is starting to realize they may be correct…) During the conversation, he learns that many of his ‘barukhim” brothers are siding with these now-heretical groups against the Nicene establishment in Rome. Returning to the legion’s camp from the meeting, he is accosted by a beggar that tells him the establishment won’t long need his services, and eventually they will cast him out as a liability. (Damn it, Satan, bugger off!)

That evening, a state function for the arrival of the Marcellus and Calvinus is had at the praetor’s residence. In the midst of their meal, the windows burst in as a pair of winged women, armored in black with red Greek inscriptions, incredibly tall and beautiful, invade the dinner to inform Marcellus and crew they will never reach the River Styx…alive! These creatures — furies, Augustinian thinks — have been trapped on Earth and have banded together with Satan to break down the Shadow. They are accompanied by a pair of hell hounds, and Bayla, Calvinus’ tormentor, who is offering him a chance to join them, rather than die with his friends.

Up until this point in the campaign, the characters have been munching through the bad guys with some ease. Even the Dark Man and the troll, Dufex, have only given them some challenge (but one that once they got their act together, they defeated with ease.) I figured I would ramp things up…apparently, too much. One of these Erinyes would most likely have provided them a real fight, but two plus the others was proving in a single round to be too much.

Poena (“Indignation”) blocked Marcellus’ action surged attack with ease, then cut him down to -4HP with a single blow, then seriously injured Augustinian. Invidia (“Malice”), the other fury, tore Icio (probably out biggest bad ass) up and nearly put him out of the fight — again with a single blow. The two hell hounds were badly injured and stunned by Calvinus’ use of shatter, and Carrus was unable to even land a blow.

Things were looking pretty dire for the crew when we knocked off for the night…

So one thing learned, while lower level characters are much more robust and powerful in 5th edition than the old AD&D I remember, they don’t really take off until 5th level. I over-gunned them, thinking that they would once again coordinate well enough to drop one of the Erinyes. Two was too much, and the addition of the extra baddies seems to ensure my first TPK in my 30+ years of gaming.

There is a possible out, a deus ex machina that is built into Icio’s character, and which the player was considering: asking for the aid of his angelic guardian. Could he call on Michael to help him?

I guess we’ll see.